Featured Photo: Northern Lights in Tennessee

Featured Photo: Northern Lights in Tennessee

Monday, March 14, 2011


Our first full day in the bottom of the canyon was a day to relax and recover.  Everyone had varying degrees of soreness in their knees so a slow day sounded good to most everyone.  Three people opted to take a long day hike up to Ribbon Falls which was close to 14 miles round trip from the Bright Angel Campground.  The rest of us lounged around camp, took short walks up or down the creek to some fairly close overlooks, and to the river.  One particularly nice walk took us a half mile or so up the Clear Creek Trail to fantastic overlooks of the Colorado River as well as its tributary we were staying on, Bright Angel Creek. 

An early morning walk to the Black Bridge provided some nice scenery for my camera as the sun peeked around canyon walls and lit up the now chocolate milk colored river.  The tunnel on the south side of the river gave me some interesting ideas for pictures and made me wish I had brought some type of tripod with me.


After breakfast, we walked up towards Phantom Ranch and beyond, eventually making it up the Clear Creek Trail for the views before descending back to camp for lunch.  In the afternoon, we hung out near the river, soaking up the sun, and of course I did a little fishing.  My first opportunity to catch a fish came as we headed up towards Phantom Ranch.  In camp, prior to the hike, I tied on a wooly bugger with a BHPT as  dropper.  The water was cold, and I wasn't going to bother with dries unless I found rising trout.

Despite the lack of rising fish, I found plenty of insects.  Clouds of mayfly spinners could be found above the trail in the middle to late parts of the day.  Midges and a few caddis and stoneflies were seen from time to time along the stream.  There was obviously lots of food available to the trout which explained why all the fish I caught during the trip were very healthy for such a small stream.

As we headed up the trail towards Phantom Ranch, I saw the upper bridge into Bright Angel Campground and went over to take a look at the creek.  On the hike down, I lost my polarized sunglasses, but the water was so clear that I didn't have any trouble spotting fish.  As I stared at a nice run just above the bridge, a fish soon materialized below.  I quickly moved down below the bridge, and, having carefully noticed exactly where the fish was, picked it out again once I was at the level of the stream.  Stripping out enough line to make the cast, I made one backcast and dropped the flies just upstream of the feeding rainbow.  The trout chased the bugger downstream, turning as it took the fly.  Immediately I lifted the rod tip and the fight was on.  Some friends came over to see my first Grand Canyon trout, and were kind enough to also take pictures for me.

Catherine McGrath Photograph

Catherine McGrath Photograph

I moved up to fish 2 other runs above the bridge before rejoining my friends.  More fish came to hand, all exhibiting the pale, silvery color that the Colorado River run-up fish all sported.  The fish were all strong, accustomed to living their life in the heavy flow of the big river.  About this time, my lens cap went in the drink marking the second time I've lost one in the act of documenting a catch.


I didn't have much time to feel sorry for myself though because my friends had all wandered well up the trail towards the Clear Creek Trail.  I followed along, stopping just long enough to photograph an agave that clung precariously to the canyon wall.  On the way up the Clear Creek trail, I received a few funny looks and comments from hikers coming down from the heights above.  "Long ways until a place to fish," one person said.  I just grinned, not mentioning the nice fish I had just caught or the dark pool I was able to spot on Bright Angel from my now high vantage point.

We all soaked in the sun and the views, drinking in the beauty of the canyon, wishing we could stay forever but knowing we had to absorb as many memories as possible since that wasn't realistic.  My eyes were recording the scene in my mind while my camera was doing the same.  Between the two, I might be able to remember the trip fairly well.

Catherine McGrath Photograph

Back down along the creek, I caught a few more fish before heading back to camp for lunch.  After satisfying my hunger, it was down to the confluence of Bright Angel with the Colorado River.  Along the way, I picked up a couple of small rainbows.  After hanging out with friends along the river, I headed back up the creek and found my first honey hole.  Up until this point, I only caught 1-2 fish per pool or pocket.  The sweet spot yielded 5 fish ranging from a small streamborn fish to 14 inch run-up fish.  This was just a foretaste of things to come.

By this time, it was getting towards evening and time to call it a day.  I talked to a couple of fisherman from New York state about fishing their home waters as well as streams we knew in common in the Yellowstone vicinity.  After we had talked for awhile, my three friends that had walked to Ribbon Falls came trekking by, reminding me that it was about time to head back to camp and join everyone for supper. 

The descriptions of the beauty of Ribbon Falls convinced some more of us that we better try to make it up there the next day sore or not.  I was just hoping that my knee would make it there and back.  Any serious knee trouble would severely hinder me on the journey back to the South Rim in 2 more days.  Still, I made plans to hike the next day, having no idea how amazing the next day would be...

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Suppressing the Pain

Training began to hike to the bottom of the Grand Canyon a few months ago.  Our group did several long hikes together, including a few with as much elevation gain and loss as you can come up with here in Tennessee.  Nothing here in this part of the country can prepare you for the grueling hike into the Grand Canyon however.

We started out the hike fresh and excited to reach our destination.  The deep snow at the top cloaked the rim and upper canyon walls in a blanket of white, giving us views that many people don't get the opportunity to see when they visit the Grand Canyon.  The various shades of sandstone contrasted beautifully with the gleaming snow.  As we reached the edge of the rim to begin hiking, the clouds were slowly breaking up to reveal the icy blue sky behind, adding more color to the scene.  Shafts of sunlight split the air above the canyon illuminating our destination below and then fading again as the clouds moved by.

Catherine McGrath Photograph

The upper trail was in great shape due to the fresh snowfall.  Instead of layers of filthy mud where the mules had been trampling the trail, the fresh blanket of snow provided the perfect hiking surface.  By the time we had descended to Indian Garden however, we had dropped below the snow line.  The first three miles or so of trail soon gave way to mud in abundance.  Below Indian Garden the trail was in great shape again though.  The trail was firm instead of muddy. 

As we descended the Devil's Corkscrew, quickly losing altitude as we closed in on the river, our muscles began to burn with the unaccustomed hiking.  By the time we reached the river, everyone was sore to some degree.  Thankfully, my heavy pack never really bothered me too much.  Occasional adjustments kept my hips and shoulders comfortable for the most part.  Finally, after several twists and turns along a small creek, the trail emerged at the Colorado River.  Our excitement was soon tempered by the realization that we still had to hike a mile or so before reaching camp.  Still, the worst of the trail was behind us and we closed in on camp as the light was fading. 

Catherine McGrath Photograph

We reached camp before dark and quickly pitched tents and got settled in before full dark came on.  Soon members of our group were spotting various animals running around in the deepening shadows including foxes and even a ringtail.  Our food was safely secured in the ammo boxes provided for that purpose.  While hiking we didn't have time to be sore.  The views did a magnificent job of suppressing the pain, or at least distracting us enough so we didn't notice.  However, once in camp, we took Ibuprofen to ease the pain in our legs, and after a good supper, we all went to bed to sleep the sleep of exhaustion.  The next two days would be packed with adventure, and we needed plenty of rest to prepare for the good times ahead...

Tuesday, March 08, 2011

Decision Time

When planning for spring break in the Grand Canyon, one thing we hoped to avoid was mountains of snow and bitter cold temperatures.  The average high this time of year in the bottom of the canyon is in the low 60s, and we figured it would be better than Tennessee has been all winter.

On the drive out, we heard more details on the possible winter storm that would be moving in at the same time we wanted to be heading down the trail to the bottom.  Snowfall forecasts were for anywhere from 1-2 feet of the white stuff on the South Rim.  Worse still, the bulk of the storm would move through Saturday afternoon into the overnight (February 26).  Our hike was scheduled to begin on Sunday the 27th and we were concerned about being able to even access the trails if the forecast materialized.  Friday evening we held a powwow and the consensus was to get up early Saturday and drive up to the Canyon to make the best of a potentially bad situation.  At least we would be on the Rim and could work out the other details as necessary. 

Waking up Saturday morning, the sky was foreboding.  Outdoor enthusiasts know that a red sky in the morning warns of impending trouble.  Despite our concerns, the beauty of the sunrise was still something to be enjoyed.

 Catherine McGrath Photograph

As we approached the South Rim, the clouds lowered and flurries started to fly.  By the time we reached the backcountry office to make a last minute change to our permit, the canyon was completely shrouded by fog and clouds.  Next stop was the Visitor Center.  We were seeking information on how well the Park Service would clean up the roads after the storm.

  Catherine McGrath Photograph

Finally, knowing that we needed a good night's rest before hiking in, we headed to Mather Campground to set up tents.  By this time, moderate snowfall was occuring and we were unsure of how things would work out the next day.  Around the campground, deer were wandering in a last effort to forage before the storm buried everything. 

Catherine McGrath Photograph

The tents pitched and secured for the night, we headed back out to try and figure out a route for the next day.  Finally, after driving several different roads, we found one that we thought would work.  We also stopped by the Bright Angel trailhead to make sure we knew were it was the next day if the snow was piled too deeply.

Catherine McGrath Photograph 

The snow was falling heavily and driving was becoming difficult for some. As we headed back towards the campground, we passed a park shuttle bus in the ditch.  Clearly no one would be doing much driving during the night.

After eating a hot supper, we all hit the sack early to conserve warmth and energy.  Outside the storm continued to dump snow and we had no idea what to expect when we woke up the next morning.  The heavy clouds kept the light dim but slowly we realized that morning had arrived and started to stir.  Finally everyone started getting up, the cold air motivating us all to hurry in taking down the tents and doing any last minute packing in our backpacks.  When we opened the tent, we found a winter wonderland complete with a foot or more of new snow.

About the time we were getting everything securely packed, something awesome happened.  A Park road grader came by on the main campground road clearing snow.  I hurried out to see if he was coming our way and sure enough, when I waved at him he pulled into our loop, most likely shocked at discovering people crazy enough to be camping there in that kind of weather.  With the roads reasonably clear, we made it to a cafe for breakfast and then the Visitor Center to leave the van and catch a shuttle to the trailhead.  Our decision to head up and camp Saturday night proved the correct one.  All roads leading into the Park were closed down.  Even I-40 was shut down due to the storm according to people we talked to before heading to the bottom. 

Catherine McGrath Photograph 

Finallly!!!! The moment that I had been waiting months for had arrived. Our shuttle bus pulled up, and we all piled on for the short ride to the Bright Angel trailhead.  When the bus stopped, we all hopped off and immediately sat down to put on our trail crampons.  In the end, the crampons were not absolutely necessarily, but the ease of trekking was improved immensely.  The other key piece of equipment was our trekking poles.  Hiking downhill for longer distances is brutal and can cause serious knee problems without proper planning.  The trekking poles remove a large quantity of stress off the knees meaning we weren't too sore when we arrived at the bottom. 

The hike down was beautiful with the fresh snowfall at higher elevations.  I will share more on that later as well as lots of pictures and stories from the bottom.  The fishing was excellent so stay tuned!!!

Saturday, March 05, 2011

Where Have I Been?

Everywhere, or at least that is what it seems like.  I just got back from a loooonnnng road trip to Arizona to backpack in the Grand Canyon for Spring Break.  Naturally there was fishing involved as well as many pictures taken.  I'll have more on that trip shortly. 

Additionally, it seems that the bugs are starting to hatch in earnest in the Smokies.  The hatches haven't hit full swing yet but should be there shortly.  I'll be investigating that situation as soon as possible.  Hopefully that small detail otherwise known as work won't get in the way too much...  While you are waiting for further updates, here's a little teaser showing our first view of the Grand Canyon at Mather Point behind the main South Rim Visitor Center...

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Streamers Are Hot

The Caney was hot this past weekend with most all fisherman reporting good fishing.  I floated again with David Perry and the streamer bite was sick.  I started out at the casting brace with an agreement of changing every five fish.  A skipjack got things rolling but soon the nice rainbows started coming to the net.  Soon it was time to switch so I rowed while David P. fished.  After putting a few fish in the boat we switched again and found out just how good the fishing was. 

Fishing down a bank, I was literally getting a fish, follow, or strike on every cast.  The fish were all on the feed and couldn't get enough of our streamers.  Talking to several other fisherman, it appeared that lots of techniques were working well.  The only thing lacking was the big browns which didn't really every come out to play.  We did have a few follows and some hard strikes from fish we never saw, but at the end of the day, no large browns had been put in the net. 

One thing that was very exciting was the growth of the brookies.  The largest we boated was just under 14 inches and fat.  So far it seems that the brook trout are being stocked in decent numbers and are keeping away from the big browns.  There is plenty of food in the river and the fish are healthy.  If they can survive the summer we should be seeing a few in the 16 inch range this next fall. 

Hopefully the river will continue to fish well.  I have high hopes for the summer's fishing opportunities.  For now, the river is slowly getting healthier with a good range of fish sizes showing up to about 15-16 inches.  Hopefully the big browns will start showing up soon.  Regardless, it is still a good time to get out...

The following are several of the pictures from the day...

Photograph by David Perry 

Photograph by David Perry 

Photograph by David Perry 

Photograph by David Perry 

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Camping In Cades Cove

Rain.  Temps in the 30s and low 40s.  Camping.  Not normally a recipe for good camping, some friends and I decided to battle the elements as we were all free this past weekend.  We wanted to do a long hike in preparation for a trip to the Grand Canyon in another couple of weeks.  Amazingly, despite the bleak forecast, the weather actually turned out very well.  Friday night featured just some very light drizzle that quit once we set up camp.  Saturday turned out to be partly cloudy which meant we had some great views once we got to the higher elevations. 

For the most part the camera stayed in its case.  The light was a little weak, and I knew that the pictures I stored in my mind were much better than anything my camera could accomplish.  Our hike took us up the Anthony Creek Trail out of Cades Cove to the Bote Mountain Trail.  Ascending up to the AT, we then took a right turn and headed west for three miles.  In the process we took in views from Spence Field and Russell Field.  Our route back down was the Russell Field Trail which connected to the Anthony Creek trail.  Several hours and close to 15 miles later, we were back in camp, all a little sore, but everyone agreed that the hike was well worth it.

Sunday I planned to do a little fishing.  The morning dawned overcast and stayed that way up until we headed out of the Cove.  I was excited because the low light conditions increased the odds that some large browns would be out feeding.  Sadly, as we drove back down Laurel Creek Road towards Little River, the clouds thinned and soon broke completely.  The day turned out beautiful but not so good for fishing.  I still managed some small rainbows and even got a 14 inch brown to come attempt to eat.  Unfortunately I set the hook too early and missed out on pictures of the nice fish.

Hopefully I will be out fishing again soon, most likely on the Caney Fork this next weekend.  This is the time of year to be fishing streamers as much as possible on the tailwaters and I'll probably try to do that some...with a little luck, the big guys might come out and play...

Thursday, February 03, 2011

Warm Respite

After a great day of hiking this past Saturday, I knew that getting out on Sunday was definitely necessary.  The Smokies have been calling for weeks so I finally made the drive over with a couple of friends.  We planned on having a relaxed day with a little hiking, a little fishing, and most of all just enjoying the great outdoors. 

The drive over was uneventful.  After a stop to pick up some sandwiches for lunch we headed into the Park.  I stopped at a couple of favorite pools to look for big browns sitting out.  Sure enough, in the first place I checked a very nice fish was out feeding.  I watched for a good ten minutes but decided to leave it for the time being.  We drove on to Elkmont and started up the trail.  After hiking for a bit, we found a nice spot in the sun to hang out and eat lunch.

Naturally I was in a hurry to sample the fishing so I rigged up and headed a couple hundred feet downstream to fish back up.  The first several pockets and runs were seemingly devoid of life, but having fished often before in cold weather I knew that it was just a matter of time.  The dry flies weren't doing the trick like I had hoped so I switched over to a pair of nymphs.  Immediately the fish started to hit a Tellico and things progressed nicely.  The first fish came right where I had left my friends lounging on a rock, and the three runs immediately above were also good to me.

The rainbows are starting to color up for the spawn which should be starting soon.  The river was in excellent shape, and I expect the fishing to be great this spring.  Right now, it looks like old man winter will hang on for at least another two weeks.  I would bet that the second week in March is a good bet for the first big hatches, but of course it is only a guess. 

After the sun started sinking below the ridge, we headed back down the trail.  I stopped in a couple of spots to catch some more trout.  Everywhere I expected to find fish produced well for me.  The fish were glued to the bottom for the most part at this elevation, but a weighted nymph and a couple of split shot did the trick. 

We headed over to Cades Cove to finish off the day watching the sunset.  The cove was basking in the warm glow of a late winter sun and the spring peepers were singing their song.  We still have some cold days ahead, but weather like this starts to ignite spring fever for me.  I'm hoping to get out again over the next few days.  I've had a cold for days, but hopefully it will ease enough that I can get out soon.  I'm hoping to return to the Smokies so stay tuned for more...